By Mike Myslinski
Jo Anderson Jr., a senior adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, shakes the hand of teacher Renee Manrique as he tours Oakland schools.
It was a federal fact-finding mission with a lot at stake for at-risk students when Jo Anderson Jr. visited California. Anderson is a senior adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan who looked at six at-risk schools in late March to explore whether the CTA-sponsored Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) program could become a national model to turn around struggling schools.
The landmark 2006 legislation established the largest school reform program in the nation. It provides $3 billion over eight years for proven reforms at 500 low-performing California public schools serving nearly a half million students. The schools benefit from smaller class sizes, better training for teachers and principals, and more counselors.
During his March 28-29 fact-finding tour, Anderson explored why many California QEIA schools are thriving. He was impressed by what teachers can achieve when provided with essential resources, a collaborative framework in which to work and innovate, and fair accountability for results — all hallmarks of the QEIA program. Anderson agreed that no other state has made this kind of sustained commitment to helping persistently low-achieving schools.
“From what I’ve seen and read,” Anderson said, “there are a number of themes [in the QEIA program] that are nationally recognized that are key to improving instruction with schools that have high poverty impacting the kids.” He praised the “remarkable” long-term nature of the program and the amount of funding involved, but was concerned that the state budget crisis might undermine some progress.
Teachers, parents and administrators spoke passionately about the positive results from QEIA resources providing smaller classes, more collegiality and trust, and local input for developing better professional development for educators. The program’s flexibility supports the use of professional learning communities, where teachers at QEIA schools craft different methods of collaborating and supporting one another.
In Oakland, Anderson met with several teachers at high-poverty schools and listened to their success stories. He shook the hand of Oakland Unified teacher Renee Manrique as her colleague David Norris explained what was going on in his vibrant fourth-grade classroom at ACORN Woodland Elementary, a new school in the district.
This school’s strong parental involvement and smaller class sizes made possible by QEIA have translated into a strong Academic Performance Index (API) score of 807 in a high-risk student population.
Anderson also met with teachers at Oakland’s New Highland Academy, where the API score rose 100 points in two years to 735. Enrichment classes help students thrive, and music teacher Jean Cameron White told Anderson that, thanks to QEIA, the school’s success has “restored my faith in what a school can be.”
Anderson ended his tour with visits to QEIA schools in Santa Ana (Fairhaven Elementary in Orange Unified), Fullerton (Valencia Park Elementary, Fullerton School District), and Anaheim (Sycamore Junior High School, Anaheim Union High School District).
He said he will ask Secretary Duncan to tour QEIA schools as well. CTA representatives on the tour included Secretary-Treasurer Gail Mendes, CTA Board members Eric Heins and Jim Rogers, and local chapter presidents and field staff.
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